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Health officials brace for a surge in US Covid-19 cases after the holidays

With Christmas in the rear view mirror, public health experts are bracing for yet another surge in...

Posted: Dec 26, 2020 1:07 PM
Updated: Dec 26, 2020 6:30 PM

With Christmas in the rear view mirror, public health experts are bracing for yet another surge in Covid-19 cases, similar to those seen after other US holidays in recent months.

'We've just seen these amplification events, and that's what's happened at the end of this year in the US,' said Erin Bromage, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

'We had Thanksgiving, we had Labor Day, we had Halloween, and each one of these events brought lots of people together and just gave the virus more fuel to move through the population,' Bromage said. 'Christmas is going to do a similar thing.'

Despite warnings by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to postpone travel and stay home, more than 7.1 million people were screened at TSA checkpoints over the last week, according to the agency's numbers.

Nearly 1.2 million people were screened at airports on Wednesday alone, an air travel record for the pandemic. While the number of travelers screened on Christmas Day -- 616,469 people -- represents just 23% of the total screened on the same day a year ago, the figure remains worrying for officials because it doesn't signal the end of the holiday travel rush, but a lull before travelers begin to return home.

For weeks, health experts and officials have urged Americans to be safe this holiday season, and that guidance extends to New Year's Eve, with the CDC urging revelers to celebrate at home or virtually. If they host an in-person celebration, the agency suggests staying outside, limiting the numbers of guests, making extra masks available and keeping background music low to avoid shouting.

Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean of Emory University's School of Medicine, said if people get together they should keep gatherings below 10 people and get tested at least once, maybe twice.

'Your level of protection is as strong as your weakest link, and if there's a weak link, then the virus is going to spread,' he told CNN. 'We've learned how quickly this virus and how easily this virus spreads, so we have to take all the precautions possible.'

The fears of a holiday surge come as the US met yet another grim milestone for the pandemic: On Saturday afternoon, the US death toll surpassed 330,747, according to data from Johns Hopkins University -- meaning 1 in 1,000 Americans have died of Covid-19.

And December is now the deadliest month since the pandemic began. At least 63,575 deaths from Covid-19 have been totaled so far this month, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. April held the previous record of 60,738 deaths.

On Saturday, Johns Hopkins reported 186,164 new cases and 1,494 deaths.

There are also 117,334 current Covid-19 hospitalizations, the fifth highest daily number of hospitalizations reported since the pandemic began, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

At least 9,547,925 vaccine doses have been distributed and at least 1,944,585 doses of the vaccine have been administered, according to the CDC.

UK travelers face new US testing requirement Monday

Officials fear the surge even as the US plans to require a negative Covid-19 test for all travelers from the UK, following the emergence of a new coronavirus variant that is potentially more transmissible and said to have originated in the UK.

The CDC announced Thursday passengers will need a negative PCR or antigen test within 72 hours of boarding a flight from the UK to the US, along with documentation of their laboratory results. Airlines will be required to confirm the test prior to the flight.

The order goes into effect Monday.

Two cases of the new variant have been found in Ontario, Canada, according to a press release from the Ontario government issued Saturday. Ontario is the first province in Canada to detect cases of the variant.

A couple from Durham with no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts tested positive for the new variant, according to the release. They are now in self-isolation.

A travel ban on all flights arriving to Canada from the UK is already in place until January 6, 2021, according to the release.

CDC researchers have found getting a Covid-19 test three days before traveling reduces the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus by just 5 to 9%, according to a paper posted online last month.

Testing on the day of departure may reduce that risk by 37 to 61%, per the paper, which has not been peer-reviewed.

Dr. del Rio was skeptical that the testing requirement would be effective, telling CNN Saturday he believed it would be better to also require a rapid antigen test at the time of boarding, and perhaps at the time of landing in the US.

One test 'not enough'

'One test in my mind is not enough,' he said. 'I think you need to do two tests at least.'

The CDC said earlier this week that the variant has not been identified through sequencing efforts in the US, but that could be because the US surveillance system established for Covid-19 hasn't caught it yet.

It's 'highly possible' the new variant is already in the US, del Rio said, given how quickly the virus spreads.

'I want to stress to the public that rather than getting terribly concerned about this new strain, I think we need to just reinforce the restrictions we've been talking about,' he said, pointing to mask wearing and social distancing.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 206851

Reported Deaths: 2756
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah40371614
Washington26781248
Marion23425323
Clackamas18932235
Lane13908164
Jackson11535146
Deschutes1001882
Umatilla859387
Linn561181
Yamhill478279
Klamath477678
Polk399356
Douglas388483
Malheur361463
Josephine360672
Benton326522
Jefferson237039
Coos216637
Columbia192129
Union149924
Wasco144430
Lincoln143021
Crook129223
Hood River121633
Morrow115416
Clatsop10589
Baker101115
Curry71011
Tillamook6604
Grant5507
Lake4678
Harney4339
Wallowa1945
Gilliam801
Sherman671
Wheeler351
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3809710

Reported Deaths: 63356
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles124774424456
Riverside3016684627
San Bernardino2992894845
San Diego2818103771
Orange2730575113
Santa Clara1201632188
Kern1107991404
Sacramento1078211736
Fresno1029471724
Alameda896591277
Ventura816611031
San Joaquin747271440
Contra Costa70730813
Stanislaus634971070
Tulare49776849
Monterey43836432
San Mateo42681581
San Francisco37269556
Santa Barbara34613455
Solano33762266
Merced32313478
Sonoma30884317
Imperial28855741
Placer23589299
Kings23195247
San Luis Obispo21421261
Madera16638245
Santa Cruz16246208
Marin14206230
Yolo14160212
Butte12668194
Shasta12630233
El Dorado10396116
Napa1002680
Sutter9663113
Yuba648951
San Benito610963
Lassen578424
Tehama573463
Nevada491975
Humboldt449948
Mendocino434050
Tuolumne421271
Amador374047
Lake356345
Glenn243427
Siskiyou239637
Colusa228418
Calaveras220756
Del Norte14588
Inyo143438
Mono12954
Plumas7366
Modoc5585
Mariposa4657
Trinity4225
Sierra1160
Alpine890
Unassigned280
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